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David Lasser Papers
MSS 0322  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Lasser, David, 1902-
    Title: David Lasser Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1930 - 1998
    Extent: 8.53 linear feet (17 archives boxes and 1 oversize folder.)
    Abstract: Papers of David Lasser, labor activist and aerospace visionary. In the early 1930s, David Lasser founded and became the first president of both the American Interplanetary Society and the Workers Alliance of America. He wrote one of the first books in English dealing with the possibility of space exploration titled, THE CONQUEST OF SPACE. The collection is arranged in seven series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL, 2) CORRESPONDENCE, 3) ECONOMIC COOPERATION ADMINISTRATION COURT CASE, 4) INTERVIEWS, 5) ORGANIZATIONS, 6) SUBJECT FILES, and 7) WRITINGS. The accession processed in 2000 contains mostly correspondence and photographs, and is arranged in two series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE and 2) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0322
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    David Lasser Papers, MSS 0322. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    David Lasser was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1902. After attending a half year of high school, he quit, and lying about his age, enlisted in the United States Army. He was sent to France where he suffered shell shock and was later honorably discharged. Upon release from the hospital, he entered M.I.T. where he graduated with a B.S. in Engineering Administration, despite his lack of a high school education.
    In 1930, after founding the American Interplanetary Society, the first organization in the U.S. to deal with space travel by means of rocket, Lasser wrote and self-published one of the first non-fiction accounts, in English, dealing with space travel titled THE CONQUEST OF SPACE. Arthur C. Clarke, world-reknowned science fiction author and scientific investigator, wrote "my encounter with the CONQUEST OF SPACE, soon after its publication in 1931, was one of the turning points in my life, and I suspect, not only of mine...."
    In his early years, Lasser was an editor at Science Wonders Stories in New York City. With the deepening of the Great Depression, Lasser also worked as coordinator of a city-wide union for the unemployed. In fact, he spent so much time organizing the unemployed that his publishers at Science Wonder Stories one day told him "Since you love the unemployed so much, we suggest that you join them." In 1933, he founded a nationwide union for the unemployed named the Workers Alliance of America and became its first president. Seven years later, he resigned due to increasing Communist involvement in the organization.
    Upon his resignation from the Workers Alliance of America, President Roosevelt nominated Lasser to join the Works Projects Administration which trained the long-term unemployed for private industry. Later that year, however, the U.S. Congress inserted a clause into WPA legislation stating that no part of their funds might be used to "pay the compensation of David Lasser." This action was prompted by Martin Dies, a Republican Congressman, who at the debate for the 1942-1943 Appropriations Bill for WPA Expenditures declared that "this fellow Lasser is not only a radical but a crackpot, with mental delusions we can travel to the moon!" Soon after, Lasser was released from his position. One year later, the House Appropriations Committee granted him full clearance and the offending clause was stricken from the legislation. This would prove to be only the beginning of David Lasser's struggle to permanently clear his name.
    In the following years, Lasser worked at the War Productions Board as a coordinator of trade union officials serving various WPA industry divisions. In 1945, Lasser wrote PRIVATE MONOPOLY - THE ENEMY AT HOME and soon became labor consultant to Secretary of Commerce, W. Averell Harriman, who was assigned to develop the Marshall Plan. Lasser assisted in dealing with anti-Marshall Plan trade unions under Communist influence.
    In 1948, Lasser was again offered a position as labor consultant to Harriman, who was at this time an ambassador charged with foreign operations for the Economic Cooperation Administration. Lasser was refused clearance by the E.C.A. security staff on grounds that his Workers Alliance affiliation violated E.C.A. law which prohibited appointments of those who had been members of disloyal organizations that advocated "contrary views." The E.C.A. claim that the Workers Alliance was such an organization was backed up by the Workers Alliance's appearance on the Attorney General's list of subversive organizations. The Workers Alliance was cleared by the Justice Department for the period of David Lasser's membership and he was temporarily assigned to the E.C.A. office in Paris, France, pending final determination of his eligibility. Three months later, he was refused an extension of his assignment and an E.C.A. hearing took place. In 1950, for the second time in his life, Lasser was ousted from a government position as the hearing board cleared the Workers Alliance for "contrary views" during Lasser's membership, but recommended against his employment on the basis of alleged "Communist control" and following the "Communist line."
    Lasser next took a job as a research director for the International Union of Electrical Workers affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (I.U.E.-A.F.L.-C.I.O.). He was assigned to visit European and Asian countries to improve relationships with the United States Labor Movement. Lasser retired from the I.U.E. - A.F.L. - C.I.O. as Assistant to the President for Economic and Collective Bargaining in 1969.
    In the 1970s, Lasser began work on several literary projects, one of which was a fictional account of an asteroid, Big Joey, and its possible collision with Earth. Titled "Big Joey," the book was rejected for publication and abandoned, only to be revised and reworked in the early 1980s. Another unfinished work was on the nature of the universe, tentatively titled "The Infinite Adventure." For this book, Lasser spent ten years researching hundreds of journal and newspaper articles and took extensive notes. The book was abandoned after several years due to his discovery of a number of other books on similar topics by other authors.
    After the passage of the Freedom of Information Act , Lasser began collecting government documents regarding his affiliation with the Workers Alliance and his alleged Communist ties. Requests were sent to President Carter by U.S. Senator Cranston and many other prominent officials in support of reopening David Lasser's case. A review was finally secured and directed by the Honorable Joseph Onek, Deputy Council to the President. As a result, in 1980 David Lasser received a letter from President Carter clearing him of all charges.
    Later in his life, David Lasser became very active in his community of Rancho Bernardo, California. He was one of the founders of the San Diego State University Continuing Education Center in Rancho Bernardo and was the chairman of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee. He also taught a class on the universe titled "The Infinite Adventure." In addition to his work with San Diego State University, Lasser was chairman of the Citizens Fact Finding Commission charged with gathering information on the problem to astronomical observation of high sodium versus low sodium street lights. The low sodium lights were chosen by the City of San Diego, and Lasser received special recognition from CALTECH on behalf of Palomar Observatory.
    David Lasser died on May 5, 1996, at the age of 94.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Accession Processed in 1996
    Correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, biographical information, documents regarding the Economic Cooperation Administration court case, and notes on writings of others make up this collection which covers the years 1931-1994 and occupies 8.00 linear feet. This collection is arranged into seven series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL; 2) CORRESPONDENCE; 3) ECONOMIC COOPERATION ADMINISTRATION COURT CASE; 4) INTERVIEWS; 5) ORGANIZATIONS; 6) SUBJECT FILES and 7) WRITINGS.
    This series consists of news clippings, Lasser's employment background including resumes and applications, photographs, Who's Who biographies and his Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army.
    The correspondence in this series spans Lasser's entire life with the bulk of it sent or received in his later years. It is arranged in alphabetical order by name of correspondent. Notable correspondents include Eleanor Roosevelt and Arthur C. Clarke.
    This series contains documents and general correspondence regarding the E.C.A. court case from 1948 - 1950. Many of the documents are arranged numerically according to Lasser's index of documents. Also included in this series are letters of support from friends and acquaintances and Lasser's notes on the case.
    This series contains interview notes arranged alphabetically by the name of the individual interviewed. Also contained in this series are interview questions and an index of those interviewed.
    The ORGANIZATIONS series contains documents and correspondence from the organizations with which Lasser was affiliated. Most of the material in this series relates to Lasser's work with the Workers Alliance of America. He was a founding member and the first president of this organization, but was only active for five years until his resignation in 1940 due to an increasing Communist presence in the organization.
    Lasser was a founding member and the first president of the American Interplanetary Society in 1930. This organization has undergone a few name changes, however. The first change was in 1934, when it was renamed the American Rocket Society and the second was in 1963 when the American Rocket Society merged with the Institute of the Aerospace Sciences to form the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Documents and correspondence can be found under all three organization names, although the few items regarding the American Rocket Society are located in the American Interplanetary Society folder.
    Also included in this series are documents and correspondence from the American Association for the Advancement of Science with which Lasser was associated (1981-1982).
    The SUBJECT FILES series is arranged alphabetically by subject. This series contains material on conferences attended by Lasser, the Freedom of Information Act documents, Lasser's name clearance litigation, documents related to government cases against Lasser (i.e. Attorney General's list, Dies Committee, notes on front groups and miscellaneous legislation), material from IUE-AFL-CIO and other organizations with which he was employed (W.P.A. and Wonder Stories), and material from his work in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego (SDSU and Sodium lamp controversy).
    This series is divided into two subseries: A) Writings by Lasser and B) Notes on the Writings of Others. The first subseries consists of original manuscripts, poetry, movie scripts, and musicals written by Lasser. Most of the writing in this series is titled BIG JOEY which Lasser worked on for several years but never published. The papers contain only a very small amount of material on THE CONQUEST OF SPACE, one of Lasser's most significant works. This collection houses no material on PRIVATE MONOPOLY - THE ENEMY AT HOME, another book written by Lasser in 1945.
    The second subseries consists of notes by Lasser on writings of others. This subseries makes up a significant portion of the entire collection and in most cases is arranged alphabetically by the subject of the writing. In some cases, however, when Lasser wrote extensively on one title, the title of the writing is used as the folder title.
    Accession Processed in 2000
    The accession to the David Lasser Papers processed in 2000 contains mostly correspondence and photographs. It spans the period 1978-1998, occupies 0.33 linear feet, and is arranged in two series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE and 2) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series is arranged alphabetically by the name of the correspondent. Many of the letters in this series date to near the end of David Lasser's life when his wife, Mimi Lasser, carried on much of his correspondence. Notable correspondents include President Jimmy Carter and Arthur C. Clarke.
    The MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS series, arranged alphabetically, contains photographs of Lasser with others, including a photograph of him with President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson which is signed by President Johnson. The series also contains materials related to Lasser's membership in organizations, writings by and about Lasser, and a plaque given to Lasser by the Palomar Observatory in appreciation of his efforts during the "sodium lamp controversy."

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Lasser, David, -- Archives
    Clarke, Arthur Charles, 1917-
    Workers Alliance of America -- Archives
    United States. -- Works Progress Administration -- Archives
    American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics -- Archives
    Electric industry workers -- Labor unions -- United States -- History
    Labor unions and communism -- United States -- History


    Clarke, Arthur Charles, 1917- -- correspondent
    Davin, Eric Leif, -- correspondent
    Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962, -- correspondent
    Pendray, G. Edward -- (George Edward), 1901- -- correspondent